April 14, 2019
Humiliation and Exaltation
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11
On Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of God. God became flesh. The eternal Son of the eternal Father became a baby boy. As we sing in that great Christmas hymn:
Now, during this most holy time of the church year, we watch as our God and brother goes to the cross to suffer and die for the sin of the world.
He is God. As God, he has the form, the appearance, the bearing, the attitude of God. When God became a man he did not stop being God. Christ could not stop being God. But he could set aside the form of God and take on the form of a servant. In his divinity, he was equal to the Father. He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. He was equal with God. He therefore had the form, the appearance, the bearing, and attitude of God himself. But he humbled himself. He made himself of no reputation. He not only became a human being, but he humbled himself to become obedient all the way to the death of a cross.
Having the form of God means he is to be worshipped, praised, and obeyed. Everyone must bow down before him. But he humbles himself. He assumes the form of a slave. He submits, not only to the just authority of his righteous Father, but to the unjust and corrupt power of sinful men. Christ cannot set aside his deity. He is who he is. But he can set aside the form of God and take the form of a servant.
“Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Think as he thought. He is the King of kings, yet comes to claim his kingdom riding on a donkey. He is the almighty God in the flesh, yet permits himself to be betrayed into the hands of bloody gangsters who torment him with whips, insults, and cruel mockery. He is the Author of the law that accuses, indicts, and condemns everybody in this world as a sinner. He alone obeys it according to the letter and the spirit. He willingly endures the punishment that law required. He does not deserve it. But he willingly bears it. His obedience does what the law demanded of us. It bears what the law pronounced against us. The Creator suffers indignities from his creation. Can you imagine a greater humiliation than what Christ endured? He is our God! He provides us with the food we need to live and water to quench our thirst, and all he gets is sour wine to drink. He, the Creator, suffers shame from his creation. There is no greater humiliation than what he suffered.
We Christians are to think like he thought. Have his mind, his attitude. He gave up honor for shame. When he endured the shame he did not complain. He did not utter threats. He willingly suffered.
We are to take on Jesus’ attitude and imitate him. We cannot imitate him in turning water into wine, walking on water, stilling the storm, or in other ways proving ourselves to be God. That’s because we are not God. We never were and we never will be God. Jesus was, is, and will always be God. We are not to imitate Jesus in what he did in the form of God. We are to imitate him in what he did in the form of a servant. It was not in the form of God that Jesus saved us. He did so in the form of a servant. He did so in humility. He did so in obedience. He did so in his bitter suffering and death on the cross.
This is what we are to imitate. Humility is not an option for us Christians. It’s not that our humility is what gains us glory. Were that the case, we would glory in our humility. It is not humble to boast in your humility! The reason humility is not an option for us is that faith is born in humility and killed by pride.
King Solomon wrote, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” The ancient Greeks spoke of hubris, an overweening form of pride that flows out of an exalted view of oneself that justifies the mistreatment of others. Pride goes before a fall. The history of the human race is illustrated by stories of men and women who elevated themselves at the expense of others and suffered humiliation. Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
To have the mind of Christ is more than avoiding hubris. Hubris is sin by anyone’s definition. Self-centered, narcissistic arrogance is obviously wrong. It does harm. Nobody in his right mind would defend this form of pride.
But everybody defends pride based on merit, hard work, and achievement. Everybody seeks status. I want no more than I deserve. So we say. How is it that we always deserve more than the other guy? “Have this mind in you,” St. Paul says. Jesus gave up the honor that was his due to receive the shame he did not deserve, and this is what he tells you to do. But that’s not fair! What’s fair?
Is that fair? “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” You have a job. This gives you a certain status. You have authority to make decisions. Your position of responsibility entails exercising power. How do you do your job? Before doing anything at all, humble yourself. Place yourself under your duties. Your duties don’t elevate you above others, even when you are in a position of authority over them. Your duties – whatever they are – do not permit you to neglect your duty to love your neighbor. This means to humble yourself.
A husband has the duty to love his wife as his own body. He is the head and she is the body. He is to care for her. How? In humility is how. A teacher has the duty to teach her students. She has authority over her students. If she didn’t, she could not teach. How does she exercise that authority? In humility is how. When we are given positions of authority and responsibility, we must not mistake the importance of our task with the importance of ourselves.
There is no more important task than to preach the gospel. A pastor should know that. That’s why in every pastor there’s a little pope trying to get out. The pastor judges himself by his duties. He elevates himself above his parishioners and assumes that because they listen to him preach, and hearing the gospel preached is vital to their lives, he must be a very important man!
“Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Jesus had the form of God because he was God. He set aside the form of God and assumed the form of a slave. It sent him to Calvary. He suffered the most shameful death imaginable. He humbled himself to exalt us. We were bound in sin and heading to hell. His humiliation is more than an example for us to imitate. It is how we are delivered from sin. The sin he bore on the cross is the sin that weighs us down and keeps us away from God. He took the sin away so that we might be exalted.
Take a look at him now! He is highly exalted. He has the name that is above every name. The same Lord Jesus who was shamed on the cross is now glorified. He is exalted above all powers of this world. Every knee will bow before him. Every tongue will confess that he is Lord. He who rode the donkey into Jerusalem to suffer and die will be confessed as the Lord God. Those who despised him and his Christians will call him Lord. Those who persecuted his church will acknowledge his authority. Every heretic that denied his true deity will confess him to be God. Everyone will confess Jesus as Lord. Those who in humble faith received him as Lord in this life will confess him with joy. Those who in their pride rejected him in this life will confess him with terror. But every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. This will glorify God the Father.
Those who have Christ’s mind, his attitude, know that humiliation leads to exultation. When we suffer slights and unkind criticisms, when we receive abuse and cruel treatment, and when we are required to submit to those who are incompetent and cruel, we will humble ourselves under God, knowing that he will exalt us in due time. We know something that only a Christian can know. We know it only by faith because we don’t get to see it. What we believe but cannot see is that the greatest humiliation led to the greatest exaltation. We know that Christ’s humiliation is how he reconciled us to God and forgave us all our sins. We know that the exalted Lord Jesus Christ constantly intercedes for us. Where he is, we will be. We gladly suffer shame, insults, wounds to our pride, injustice, and pain. God will exalt us. On this we rest confident.
Rolf D. Preus